A civil war had been brewing for quite sometime. It pitted fisherman against fisherman, and unless something was done the government was going to step in.
The fear of an unknown plan by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department may have been the push required to get all sides to sit down and talk civilly to each other about a year and a half ago.
A first meeting led to others and out of them grew Flats Worthy, an organization made up of bay fishermen of all interest in the Rockport area. That has resulted in anything but business as usual.
“There was a lot of bitterness between people, and a lot of conflict. It had been going on for a good while. It had been building up and building up,” said Chuck Naiser, a long-time guide in the area who took it upon himself to get the ball rolling.
The battle was over grass flats. Making up the two sides were an increasing number of kayakers, limited to where they go to fish by their boats, and more established guides and individuals using air boats and shallow water skiffs to access the same waters. It is easy to see the potential for conflict between the two. It was only exacerbated by the kayakers seeking relief from TPWD in the form of their own designated waters.
It did not take long for the contested waters to start boiling as the two sides made threats and exhibited a lack of decorum on the water toward each other.
“I became a sounding board,” Naiser said. “There had been a lot of different groups formed, but it seemed like nothing was getting done. There was a lot of jawboning. They had good intentions, then nothing.”
Knowing that a government fix would not result in soothed feelings, Naiser started small talking with leaders from both sides to test the waters for something all might have in common.
“I told them we have to come together and talk about this and work out differences. I got about eight people together and they sat down and had a civil discussion. It was interesting to see the kayakers and air boaters together. It put faces with names and they realized bickering was not that necessary,” Naiser recalled.
He added maybe the most important moment came when they realized they all had equal rights when it came to fishing waters, and that one side could not dictate rules without taking something away from the other side.
The smaller meetings turned into bigger ones and what the fishermen discovered was the answer was not regulations, but something as simple as the Golden Rule, treat others as you would have them treat you.
The foundation of the voluntary program is to respect other anglers, respect the resource and respect the law. It calls for fishermen to do simple things like looking for others fishing before going into an area and to not make needless shortcut runs across flats or other prime fishing spots.
“Learn what you do unnecessarily that takes away from some other type of fishermen. Talk, stop and think,” Naiser said.
The guide explained that someone who blows through a flats on their way to another fishing spot or just scouting does not chase fish out of the area momentarily, but could ruin the spot for the entire day.
“I think everyone realized we have to do something different. I think everyone came to this realization that there is a lot of people out here and that is not going to change,” Naiser said.
He added that around Rockport it has made a difference, but does everyone play be the rules?
“There are always going to be jackasses, because they are jackasses. We are slowly chipping away at it, but I knew it was going to be six- or eight-year project,” Naiser said.
The project is gaining interest from other areas up and down the Texas coast, and Naiser and others involved with Flats Worthy have talked about the program elsewhere, but so far it has remained a local project.
“We wanted to formulate it here before it gets out,” Naiser said. He added that he believes it is so important he would not mind eventually running an organization that stretches from Louisiana to Mexico as a way to give back to fishing.
For more information on Flats Worthy go online to www.flatsworthy.com.
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